Fired Kenney staffer makes a comeback
A Conservative staffer fired three months ago for breaking fundraising rules is coming back to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office in a high-profile job.
Kasra Nejatian left his job in Kenney's office last March and was called to testify at a House of Commons committee after sending out a fundraising letter on ministerial letterhead. The letter was looking for money from Conservative riding associations, but mistakenly went to NDP MP Linda Duncan, who shared it with the media.
It also contained a package outlining a Conservative strategy for increasing support among voters in "very ethnic" ridings.
Nejatian is returning to Kenney's office — this time as his director of communications. It's a job that will see him managing media relations and other communications responsibilities for a high-profile minister.
A spokeswoman for Kenney confirmed the hiring. Nejatian "is currently in the processes of transitioning back into the office," Celyeste Power, acting director of communications, wrote in an email.
"Mr. Nejatian is a very talented individual and will be a positive contributor to our government," she said.
Kenney's office had been cagey about who would replace his last director of communications, telling a reporter last week that they weren't allowed to say who the new spokesperson was.
Charlie Angus, the NDP's ethics critic, said if the ethical breach was serious enough to force Nejatian to leave his job, he shouldn't be back.
Angus said there must be a clear separation between the ministerial and political roles, especially with a minister of immigration working to increase his party's popularity in ethnic communities.
"I don't think it's acceptable that he gets the free get out of jail card," Angus said. "It sends a message that Mr. Kenney and the rest of the government just snicker at the rules."
"If the minister's going to bring him back, what steps are they going to take to show accountability to the taxpayer?"
'Mistake was mine': Nejatian
In his March 21 appearance at the House committee, Nejatian said the mistake was entirely his own when he accidentally mailed the request for money on Kenney's parliamentary letterhead.
"A mistake was made under my watch. It was a mistake in contradiction of the minister's orders. The mistake was mine," Nejatian said.
"I am deeply sorry that my carelessness could cause a further distrust in public institutions."
The letter, seeking help from Conservative riding associations to raise $200,000 to implement the media strategy targeting ethnic ridings, was sent on Kenney's ministerial letterhead. Kenney was in Pakistan when the controversy erupted.
Nejatian also said it was he who inserted the words "very ethnic" into the presentation.
"I added the word 'very ethnic' to the presentation. The presentation only initially said, I think, 'target ridings.' I certainly didn't mean any insult by it. I consider myself an ethnic Canadian," said Nejatian, who immigrated to Canada from Iran when he was a child.
The opposition parties were united in a push for Kenney's resignation. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the principle of ministerial responsibility should apply in all circumstances, and Kenney should be the one to lose his job, not his staff member.
"As soon as I learned of that administrative mistake made in my office, my political staffer offered his resignation and I accepted it," Kenney said in the Commons in early March. "I contacted the ethics commissioner as a result, I apologized for that error, and we have taken corrective action."
"I asked my staff just simply to make sure that that information got transmitted and not to use government resources in its transmission. That implicitly meant using my political Gmail account to send information that I personally wasn't able to because I was on an airplane," said Kenney.
"The mistake was made. It was an unfortunate error."
The Conservatives have complained opposition MPs' offices have also used their parliamentary emails or offices in fundraising.